6.13.2010

Kierkegaard's Contemporaneity

Kierkegaard's Contemporaneity from Daniel Coffeen on Vimeo.



Kierkegaard claims that Christendom reads the Gospels all wrong — it's as if everyone skipped to the end, found out Jesus was in fact God, and then read what it has to say. But, for Kierkegaard, what makes Christianity what it is is that you don't know that Jesus is God — you believe it, or don't.

When reading the Gospels, Kierkegaard tells us that we must be contemporary with the text, contemporary with Jesus and the disciplines. From that perspective, the text is insane and the demand even more so: believe that a singular, historical man is the eternal God. Nuts.

And, for Kierkegaard, this critique turns on hermeneutic posture: how do you stand towards a text and the demands it makes?

Everyone's so darn wise

I find myself out and about more these days. And this makes me privy to more snippets of random conversation, to more group interactions (not as a participant, mind you — I remain anathema to the social body), to the prevailing pyschosexual dynamics of San Francisco.

Beyond the obvious micropolitics that prevail between so-called friends — it is unseemly when witnessed at a remove — and, yes, I am aware of my misanthropy — there is something else that stands out: everyone is so fucking wise. No, not actually wise. But everyone seems to come equipped with beliefs, quotes, and cliches that justify their respective existences.

We live amidst a culture of popular wisdom that professes a certain kind of certainty, a relentless self-justification. It is the culture of Oprah and Dr. Phil, of book after book — some more snide than others, books that claim to really understand men, women, sex, love, life. All this information, all these claims, seek to calm and justify people's lives.

But what happened to a different kind of wisdom? Think of Socrates: his wisdom comes from his lack of certainty. The only thing he knows is that he knows nothing. While no doubt being an incredible nudge, Socrates proffered a profound humility, a willingness to question (ad nauseum, but still).

Or Nietzsche: his wisdom demands self-alienation. He may write about why he is so wise, why he is so clever, why he writes such good books but his self-justification is not based in platitudes about the way of men and women. His self-justification is radically particular. And leaves him an alien — it leaves him not justified to the world.

There seems such little taste for the risks of alienation. Everything — personal and public wisdom — seems to steer people towards justifying their roles in the world. No doubt, this is the way of capitalism, its infinite speed: fold alienation back into the spectacle before it even arises. Keep 'em happy — and if you can't keep 'em happy, keep 'em self-justified.